Many churches struggle with a famine of prayer. Invite people to the fellowship hall for a free meal, and you’ll fill the place up with eager appetites; invite people to the fellowship hall for prayer, and you never know the outcome—of course, unless a church culture has developed around valuing the spiritual discipline of prayer. But if this kind of culture does not exist in your church, you might want to listen up, and get a copy of Old Paths New Power by Daniel Henderson. This recent book is extremely helpful for church leadership to foster a prayer culture. I’m sure individuals will gain much from this book for the sake of their own personal discipline of prayer, but this book is best fit for helping leaders lead the church in prayer, preaching, and preparing to send other to multiply revival.
In chapter two Henderson says that the paradigm of leadership, which has been fostered in recent time, has become a strategy built more on “competition, self-promotion, and notoriety” (49). But this hasn’t been how leaders are characterized in the Bible; they were characterized as “being with the Lord.” Thus, Christian leaders should foster humility, and build their leadership paradigm, not on getting ahead, but on spending time with the Lord in the Word and prayer. This kind of leadership example trickles down below to lay leaders and the wider church culture. In chapter four Henderson shows that the leadership paradigm, and other distractions, are just what the enemy wants us preoccupied with to keep from the old power of prayer and preaching God’s Word. Diversion is a “subtle archenemy of pastoral health and spiritual awakening in today’s society” (71). Distractions from the old power are variegated. But Henderson particularly keys in on technology, especially apps, tweets, posts, and text messages. (Sorry for contributing to the diversions with this post.) As a pastor, I get this. Almost every week I have some business vendor that wants to take me out to lunch, and distract me into spending more of my church’s precious budget on something that’s supposed to guarantee me “more people.” Henderson offers church leaders “the Highest Five” as a response to these kinds of distractions: 1) maintain a Christ-honoring life, 2) model a commitment to prayer, 3) master study of the Word, 4) multiply leadership within the church, 5) mobilize the church to God. By the end of chapter four, many readers will realize that they’ve been well-diagnosed and that they need to return to the old paths of faithfully praying and preaching God’s Word—two well-trod paths from which they might have strayed for the jungle of the world’s ways.
In chapter 5, Henderson gives readers seven stages that they must go through to achieve effective prayer leadership. The first is realizing that there is a complacency towards prayer and that something must be done about it. Second is starting to cooperate with other to include prayer in the church setting in a meaningful way. Third, a pastor will develop a real concern for prayer, most commonly as a result of external forces. Fourth, a leader will become committed to prayer. Five, “At some point, commitment must lead to clear, uncompromising conviction” (99). Six and seven are interlocked, and it has to do with growth and perseverance. The sixth stage is to grow in competency; the seventh stage is to weaponize prayer into a viral contagion within church life.
This book is filled with practical principles and methods for fostering prayer and a prayer culture just as described in chapter five. Chapter seven provides eight guiding principles for leading life-giving prayer experiences. Part three is a juicy discourse on how preaching leaders should foster a biblical atmosphere in the pulpit built around preaching with understanding, unction, and utterance of God’s Word—and, in turn, becoming the kind of man that matches that message. And the final part, part four, is about leadership being a sending force that multiplies leaders, who will be on mission for the sake of the gospel.
This book comes with a heavy recommendation to pastoral leadership. I think an excellent companion read for this work is J. C. Ryle’s classic, Old Paths. One might see ways in which this work has impressed upon Henderson as he’s recast and re-schematized the old ways as renewed power for this generation.